For the second time in four days I set off in the rain to drive westwards wondering if there was to be a game at the end of it. The postponement on New Year’s Day was very frustrating. Particularly because the flooded roads on the way in to Yeovil had made the decision inevitable and there was a sneaking feeling that, without the promise of Sky money, the game would have been called off earlier and saved us a wasted journey. On Saturday, I had arranged to visit friends after the game, so a postponement wouldn’t have been as much of a disappointment. I had been tasked with choosing the pre-match pub and stumbled on one a short walk from where I was staying, which turned out to be a little gem. Real ale, excellent pies served with delicious minty mushy peas and very friendly bar staff. In fact, the pub was so delightful that we nearly forgot to leave for the game. In retrospect that would have been a good decision.
Prior to the match, we had speculated on who would fill in at left wing back in the absence of Anya, Pudil and Bellerin. The answer was Battocchio, an interesting and slightly worrying choice. I was disappointed to hear that Doyley had been relegated to the bench, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Nosworthy, Battocchio, McGugan, Iriney, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.
The game was played with a pink ball, which was one of the brighter aspects of the afternoon. We started well enough and, in the second minute, McGugan broke into the box but shot wide. City were on the attack on 7 minutes with a dangerous ball into the box, Almunia was nudged out of the way as he came to collect it, the ball went out of play and the free kick was delayed as the Bristol City fans in the Wedlock stand refused to give the ball back. On 8 minutes, Fabbrini lost the ball in the middle of the pitch, Baldock went on a run and shot from distance but Almunia dropped to gather. The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, plucking a cross from Bryan out of the air. On the quarter hour, Fabbrini went on a great run down the wing and broke into the box where he went down under a challenge. Given that Diego’s tumble was greeted with groans from the travelling ‘Orns, it was no surprise when the referee waved play on. Battocchio tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Parish was equal to it. City were soon on the counter-attack, but Reid’s shot was also from distance and was wide of the target. At the break in play, the ref had words with Fabbrini. On 20 minutes, Emmanuel-Thomas shot wide of the far post. Then McGugan got the ball in the area ran across the box to get into a better shooting position but skewed his shot disappointingly over the bar. Bristol threatened again as a cross was headed on to Bryan whose shot required a decent save from Almunia who pushed it around the post. The corner fell to Elliott who shot over the bar. Down the other end
McGugan hit a lovely shot towards the top corner and Parish had to leap to tip it over. On 34 minutes McGugan hit a free kick from a long way out which flew wide of the near post. Then a run and cross from Bryan had both Emmanuel-Thomas and Wagstaff coming to meet it, they got in each other’s way and the header was wide. With five minutes to half time, Battocchio required a bit of juggling to control the ball and give it to Fabbrini who advanced into the box and squared to McGugan whose shot was blocked. From the resultant corner, the ball fell to Battocchio whose cross was met by a header from Angella that hit the top of the crossbar. In time added on, a free-kick from Reid was headed wide by Osborne.
At half-time, our wing-back situation became even stranger as Cassetti was replaced by Smith who is neither a winger nor a back. I thought moving Murray out may have been a better bet, with Smith playing in the middle, until I had a flashback to the game at Ashton Gate last season when Sean took Cassetti’s place and had a complete nightmare. Bristol City made the running at the start of the second half as Emmanuel-Thomas played a through ball to Baldock whose shot was easily saved by Almunia. Soon after, Almunia was in action again as Elliott got on the end of a corner but his header was straight at the Watford keeper. Then a move started with a ball to Deeney that should have allowed him to break free, but instead we saw a sequence involving several awful misplaced passes by Watford players which finished with Emmanuel-Thomas shooting wide. The only other notable events in the first 25 minutes of the half were a McGugan free-kick that he put over the bar and a tannoy announcement requesting that Watford’s Italian coach driver make himself known to the stewards. I am still trying to work out if that was a coded message.
Just after 70 minutes, Watford finally made their first attack of the half as Fabbrini played a through ball to McGugan who fell over in the box. Then Fabbrini broke again and fed Deeney whose shot was saved by Parish. Next a free-kick for the home team was headed back from the far post by Elliott to Osborne who headed it over the bar. Fabbrini was on the attack again but this time his cross was headed wide by Burns. Then McGugan broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner. On 83 minutes, we appeared to have won the game as Smith squared the ball to Murray. I saw the Watford youngster shoot, but my view of the goal was blocked by the crowd in front of me standing up so I was a little late to join in the celebrations as the ball went in to the bottom
corner. I had just remarked that we didn’t really deserve the lead when we no longer had it, as Emmanuel-Thomas scored at the other end, Burns having beaten Battocchio to set him up. We tried to regain the lead as Fabbrini broke and played a ball for Deeney, but the defender was quicker to it and the chance was gone. In the last minute of normal time, a shot from distance came in that was pushed over by Almunia, who was also required to come and punch clear from the corner. The home side had one final chance to win the game as Osborne met a free-kick with a header, but Almunia was equal to it. On the final whistle, my first thought was annoyance that I would have to endure that a second time. It was not an enjoyable game. I hope that some of the absentees are fit for Saturday or it could be a very difficult afternoon indeed.